An Empirical Assessment of the Sources of Police Job Satisfaction

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
An Empirical
2020, Vol. 23(1) 55–81
! The Author(s) 2019
Assessment of the
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DOI: 10.1177/1098611119875117
Sources of Police Job
Eugene A. Paoline III1
Jacinta M. Gau1
Dissatisfied workers are at risk for negative occupational behaviors such as job
turnover, poor performance, work avoidance, decreased morale among coworkers,
and physical or legal liability. Relying heavily on demographic (e.g., sex, race, educa-
tion) and occupational (e.g., rank, experience, assignment) explanatory factors, early
empirical studies failed to effectively model the statistical correlates of police officer
job satisfaction. Recent inquiries have found more success in explaining the variation
in job satisfaction by examining a variety of work-related attitudes. The current study
adds to this burgeoning area of research by assessing the role of internal and external
dimensions of the work environment, as well as views of fairness and effectiveness,
on the job satisfaction of police officers. Based on survey data from a midsized
municipal police department in Florida, the multivariate analysis reveals a number
of successful predictors of job satisfaction, especially for those officers with a street-
level assignment. A second analysis, based on qualitative coding of open-ended
survey questions, finds differences in positive and negative features of the occupation
across varying levels of satisfied and dissatisfied respondents. Implications of these
findings for police practitioners and researchers are discussed.
police, job satisfaction, police attitudes, mixed methods
1Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Eugene A. Paoline III, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive,
Orlando, FL 32816-1600, USA.

Police Quarterly 23(1)
Job satisfaction is of paramount concern with respect to maintaining a well-
staffed, high-performing workforce. Organizational research has found that job
satisfaction promotes affective commitment and attachment (Yousef, 2017),
reduces burnout (Peng et al., 2016), and increases employees’ intentions to con-
tinue working for the employer (Yousef, 2017). Job satisfaction might reduce
turnover indirectly, as well, through its beneficial impact on organizational
commitment (Fabi, Lacoursie`re, & Raymond, 2015; Jaramillo, Nixon, &
Sams, 2005; Mathieu, Fabi, Lacoursie`re, & Raymond, 2016). Some researchers
have modeled organizational commitment as a predictor of job satisfaction
rather than an outcome of it and have found a positive relationship (Peng
et al., 2016).
Like any other organization, police agencies seek to hire and retain hard-
working, dedicated employees. Adequate staffing levels are needed to provide
vital services, such as timely responses to requests for assistance, traffic enforce-
ment, and so on. Staffing shortages exert negative impacts such as longer
response times for calls for service, case backlogs among investigators, and
resultant frustration by the community (see generally Brunson & Gau, 2015).
Similarly, high turnover is a financial burden (e.g., having to constantly train
new recruits) and exacerbates the problems caused by staffing shortages (e.g.,
already-overworked detectives having to conduct background investigations on
applicants). Some dissatisfied officers stay on the job, which could also be prob-
lematic for the organization. Angry or disgruntled officers might carry out their
duties poorly, avoid work altogether, drag down morale among fellow officers,
or be physical or legal liabilities to the agency.
Job satisfaction is a key element in attracting and retaining officers. As yet,
however, there are three primary gaps in the current understanding about job
satisfaction among police. These deficiencies serve as the impetus for the current
inquiry. First, it is not clear what elements of the occupation most strongly
affect job satisfaction, either positively or negatively. Most prior studies con-
centrated on demographic and occupational characteristics of officers, which
have resulted in weak or inconsistent findings (Dantzker, 1994a, 1994b;
Johnson, 2012). Thus, additional research is needed to explain the variation in
job satisfaction among police. For example, officers might be particularly
attuned to elements within the organization (e.g., feeling supported by top man-
agement), within the community (e.g., perceived danger in the work environ-
ment), or in carrying out their duties as an officer (e.g., being fair in making
decisions). A greater understanding of the most impactful sources of job satis-
faction would not only aid in contributing to better statistical models for
researchers but would also assist police managers in making decisions about
recruitment, trainings, policies, promotions, and so forth.

Paoline and Gau
Second, most of the recent research on police officers’ job satisfaction is from
outside the United States. For example, studies have been conducted in coun-
tries such as India (e.g., Kumar, 2017; Lambert, Qureshi, Frank, Klahm, &
Smith, 2018), China (e.g., Chen, 2018), Serbia (Zekavica, Simeunovic-Patic,
Potgieter, & Roelofse, 2018), Slovenia (Aristovnik, Seljak, & Tomazevic,
2016; Tomazevic, Seljak, & Aristovnik, 2014, 2019), Turkey (Kula, 2017), and
Pakistan (Ahmad & Islam, 2019). These international studies have contributed
to the general scholarly understanding of officer job satisfaction, but policing in
the United States differs markedly from that in other countries. Most notable is
the U.S. practice of decentralization, whereby police agencies are independently
operated at the local (e.g., city, county) level (Maguire, 2003). Many other
countries employ a nationalized model in which policies and practices are stan-
dardized across agencies. Besides the internal (organizational) variation that
exists among American police departments, the external environments are het-
erogeneous and exert unique stressors and strains (e.g., the lack of respect for
police, citizen resistance to police authority) on police officers (Paoline & Terrill,
2014). As such, there is a need for development of the research on job satisfac-
tion among police officers in the United States.
Third, little is known about what makes officers stay in their jobs even if they
are dissatisfied, or about specific attitudinal differences between satisfied and
dissatisfied officers. Employees in law-enforcement occupations report a variety
of extrinsic (benefits of the job, such as pay) and intrinsic (the value of the work
itself) motivations for selecting this line of employment (e.g., Moreto et al.,
2019). Job dissatisfaction increases intentions to leave the organization, but
some unhappy officers ultimately remain with the agency. Uncovering their
reasons for doing so (i.e., features of the occupation that they deem positive
enough to keep being employed) would add to the academic literature and offer
policy implications for police managers. Moreover, knowing what satisfied offi-
cers would change about their occupation could assist police administrators in
intercepting potential shifts in satisfaction among their rank and file.
The aim of the current study is to address the three aforementioned gaps in
the existing research on police officers’ job satisfaction. Data are drawn from an
officer survey conducted in a midsized municipal police department in Florida.
The analysis is conducted in two stages. First, regression modeling will be used
to identify and compare the factors that contribute to job satisfaction.
Independent variables are drawn from the internal organizational climate,
aspects of the external work environment (i.e., views of the community), and
perceptions of police fairness and effectiveness. Second, qualitative data will be
examined to discern any differences that might emerge between satisfied and
dissatisfied officers. The survey contained open-ended sections for officers to
elaborate upon what they liked about their jobs and what aspects of their
jobs they would change if they could. Qualitative coding will reveal the positive

Police Quarterly 23(1)
and negative occupational facets reported by officers who were very satisfied,
very dissatisfied, and more neutral about their job.
Police Officers’ Job Satisfaction
Given the importance of job satisfaction to individual police officers’ work
performance and to overall organizational functioning, it is not surprising
that researchers have devoted a considerable amount of energy to disentangling
its causes. The greatest empirical attention has focused on the relevance of
demographic and occupational characteristics on officer job satisfaction.
Unfortunately, across four decades of research, examinations of factors such
as officer sex, race, age, education, marital status, military service, experience,
assignment, and rank have produced very little in the way of consistent or
robust statistical effects (Brady & King, 2018; Buzawa, 1984; Dantzker,
1994a, 1994b; Dantzker & Kubin, 1998; Forsyth & Copes, 1994; Greene,
1989; Johnson, 2012; Miller, Mire, & Kim, 2009; Paoline, Terrill, & Rossler,
2015; Rhodes, 2015; Zhao, Thurman, & He, 1999).
A second body of research on the correlates of job satisfaction has concen-
trated on work-related attitudes. For example, in a survey of 170 officers from
the Oakland (CA) and Detroit (MI) Police...

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